Paper Cranes

In Walter Dean Myers’ The Treasure of Lemon Brown, Brown says “Every man has a treasure,” and I may not be a man, but I do have a treasure. It was given to me by an old man standing outside a museum.

I wince as I dig through my bag, finding only crumbs and stray dirt until my hand brushes against a folded paper. It’s dry and cool to the touch, and has a slightly glossy feel to it. As I retract my hand from my bag, the folded paper held gingerly in my palm, I can see that it’s a paper crane. I toy with its delicate wings, slipping its waxy surface between my fingers. It’s folded out of a black paper, so dark it seems to suck all the light from the space around it. It’s of an incomplex design, but holds a certain elegance in its simplicity. It’s head tilts down, bending its long neck gracefully, as if paying respects to the lost lives it symbolizes. I gaze at it as I am transported back to when I first received it.

It was chilly, but not cold, and the wind nipped playfully at me through the thin fabric of my dad’s sweatshirt, tugging on strands of my hair, inviting me out into the grey city. Everything was quiet, as if the town itself was mourning its dead in silence. My fraying tennis shoes padded softly on the brick ground. The cold stung the barely dried tears on my face. Like everything else in Japan, the city was neat and clean. The trees lined the streets, perfectly spaced and groomed, rounded on the tops, like mushroom clouds.

Fresh tears leaked from my eyes as I replayed a gruesome slide show in my head. Images burned into my mind, like kimono patterns burned into little girls’ skin. Husbands with missing arms weeping over the charred bodies of their wives and children. Faces marred beyond recognition, skin practically cooked. They don’t show you that in school, the way it moved like a tidal wave of superheated air, so fast you didn’t have time to scream. They don’t tell you how it started fiers so intense , they could suck you into their inferno. They didn’t tell me. Now I’m walking out of this museum with tears in my eyes and my head bowed in shame, and yet, an old man with a weathered face and a pair of forgiving eyes is slipping a paper crane into my hand.

[Vivian wrote this yesterday for a short writing assignment for her Language Arts class. I am glad to see an occasional tangible dividend of our traveling, which seems light years away. The experience Vivian recollects here happened in Hiroshima in February. I’m also blown away by what a great teacher and dedicated school can do. Four years ago Vivian couldn’t write more than a couple of sentences without getting frustrated – though her head was bursting with ideas she wanted to express. Here’s a photo of the old Japanese man who gave the kids their cranes of peace in Hiroshima. Vivian is wearing my Pilani sweatshirt.]

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